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KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) — Officials at a vocational school in a city in eastern Ukraine rejected Russian claims that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a missile strike there, saying Monday that a missile simply blew out windows and damaged classrooms.
Russia specifically named the vocational school in Kramatorsk as the target of an attack in almost 11 months of war. Russia’s defense ministry said its missiles hit two temporary bases housing 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers in the city, killing 600 of them late Saturday.
Associated Press reporters who visited the scene in sunny weather Monday saw a four-story concrete building with most of its windows blown out. Inside, locals were cleaning up debris, washing up broken glass and dumping broken furniture into a rocket crater below.
A separate six-story school building is mostly undamaged. There are no signs of a Ukrainian military presence, and no casualties.
Yana Pristupa, the school’s deputy headmaster, scoffed at Moscow’s claims of troop concentration strikes.
“No one saw a single spot of blood anywhere,” she told the AP. “Yesterday, everyone saw that no one was taking out corpses. It’s just people cleaning.”
She said that before the war started last February, the school had more than 300 students, most of them studying mechanical engineering, with most classes moving online when Russia invaded.
Students “are in shock now,” she said, adding, “What a great facility it was.”
Ukrainian officials on Sunday quickly denied Russian claims that they had lost large numbers of soldiers in the attack.
Despite the lack of evidence that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers died in the strike, Moscow did not back down. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said reports from the scene had not shaken the faith of senior defense officials.
“The Ministry of Defense is the main, legitimate and comprehensive source of information on the progress of the special military operation,” Peskov said Monday in a conference call with reporters, using the Kremlin’s term for the war.
During the war, both sides regularly claimed to have killed hundreds of the other’s soldiers in attacks. Claims can rarely be independently verified because of the fighting.
Moscow’s claims may backfire domestically, however, as some Russian military bloggers criticized the Kremlin’s claims about the Kramatorsk strike.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank, said the bloggers “responded negatively to the Russian (MoD) claim, pointing out that the Russian MoD often makes fraudulent claims and criticizes the Russian military leadership for fabricating a story … rather than holds the Russian leadership responsible for the losses.”
A Russian defense ministry spokesman said the strikes on Kramatorsk were in retaliation for Ukraine’s New Year’s Eve attack in Makeevka, which killed at least 89 Russian soldiers holed up in makeshift barracks, according to Moscow. Ukrainian authorities put the death toll in the attack in the hundreds.
It was one of the deadliest attacks on Kremlin forces since the start of the war more than 10 months ago, and an embarrassing loss.
There have been such revenge strikes before. When Ukraine in early October hit a bridge linking the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula with Russia, damaging a vital supply artery for the Kremlin’s faltering military effort in southern Ukraine and striking a key symbol of Russian power in the region, the Kremlin launched the first massive barrage against Energy facilities of Ukraine. It was billed as retaliation for the bridge attack and heralded a period of relentless bombing of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Ukraine’s presidential office said on Monday that at least three civilians had been killed and 12 others wounded in the country in the past 24 hours after nine Ukrainian regions in the country’s southeast were shelled.
In one attack on Monday, two people were killed and five others, including a 13-year-old girl, were wounded by a Russian missile strike that hit a village market in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, Ukrainian authorities said.
Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said the strike affected the village of Shevchenkove. Photos posted by Syniehubov on his Telegram channel show destroyed pavilions, some still burning, and rubble all around them.
According to Ukrainian authorities, there may be more people under the rubble. A rescue operation is underway to search for them.
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